The Hands of Judgment

Pilate’s Story

Sculpture of Pontius PilateThe rising crescendo of voices in the courtyard jarred me awake before my man servant ever rapped on my bedroom door. I figured something would happen. Something always happens in Jerusalem at Passover. There are so many people, so many visitors from the outlying Jewish provinces. There is always some kind of trouble when the city is bursting at the seams.

I haven’t been sleeping well for several nights now—ever since that big parade by the peasants over that prophet Jesus. When that Nazarene carpenter started upsetting the tables in the Temple, well, I knew there was going to be trouble.

As I adjusted my toga and tightened my sandal straps, my servant informed me of the “conditions” of this meeting. It was bad enough I had to get up in the middle of the night to pacify the high priest and his cohorts, but because of their religious rules concerning defilement,  I had to go out to them. They couldn’t come in to the Judgment Hall, or they would be contaminated and unable to celebrate their holy festival. So I, the Roman governor, had to cow-tow to their demands!

Meeting Jesus

The Prisoner was strangely silent. In spite of the accusations being screamed at Him, He kept His peace. Questioning Him was a near impossibility in that mad house. I’d heard rumors about His teachings and His miracles. One of my servants heard something about Him raising a man from the dead last week in a nearby village! I had hoped to have a chance to really talk to this Jesus—maybe see one of His miracles. But, He just stood there. He wasn’t like the other men who stood before me—begging and pleading for their lives. It seems like the more guilty they are, the louder they beg for mercy. But, this Jesus just STOOD there!

Caiaphas and his cronies were screaming for justice. Because they wanted blood, I offered to whip Him—a good thirty-nine lashes with the cat-o-nine tails. But, that wasn’t good enough. They wanted this Jesus dead. I just couldn’t pronounce the death sentence on an innocent Man!

So, I had Barabbas brought up from the dungeon because I figured if they had a comparison, they would realize how unreasonable their demands were. I always released one prisoner during their festivals—sort of a good gesture. I thought when they saw the Teacher / Miracle Worker next to the insurrectionist / murderer, surely, they would choose Jesus!

The Crowd Response

Which one do you want me to release to you? Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ? I couldn’t believe my ears. They demanded Barabbas! I knew the priests were jealous of the following this Prophet had generated, but this was insane! I asked them again—and again, they screamed for Barabbas.

What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ? I was almost knocked off my seat of judgment with their screams. “Crucify Him!” They had no charge against Him deserving of death. Indeed they hadn’t proved Him to be guilty of anything!

Why? What crime has He committed? They screamed louder and louder, “Crucify. Crucify. CRUCIFY!!”

I was going to pardon Him because I found no guilt in Him and told them so. I could release Him. After all, I AM the governor appointed by Rome; my word is law! But in the midst of the uproar, my servant brought me a message from my wife. Don’t have anything to do with that innocent Man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.

I tried to make myself heard over the pandemonium in the courtyard, but the crowd was getting out of hand. Caiaphas and the elders had fanned emotions to a white-hot frenzy. The palace guards were nervously fingering their swords and spears, preparing for a riot.

These Hands of Judgement are Innocent

I had a basin of water and a towel brought out to me. I may not be able to make myself heard, but I could make myself seen. As I dipped my hands in the water, the shouting subsided. My voice now rang out over the courtyard. I am innocent of this Man’s blood. It is your responsibility!

Their response shocked me. Let His blood be on us and on our children.

I could have released Jesus of Nazareth. I told Him so. Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?2 I had the power to spare His life, but I abdicated that power. I turned it over to that blood-thirsty Caiaphas and his crew and washed my hands of the whole affair right there in front of all of them—these hands of judgment. I said I am innocent…

Why, then, do I feel so guilty?

Pilate—Just a Puppet

Painting of the courtyard with Pilate sitting in judgment of Jesus and the crowd calling for crucifixionFor centuries, we have condemned Pilate as the no-good heathen that sentenced the Son of God to a torturous death on a cross—the hands of judgment. He has been maligned as the no-account, wishy-washy judge who pronounced the death sentence on Jesus who was called the Christ. Over the years, generation upon generation of those who claim allegiance to the Son of God have scorned the Roman governor as a mere puppet of the Pharisees and the high priest.

Yet, Pilate is not as guilty as he would appear. Indeed, if we carefully examine the Scriptures, we find that he is not the scoundrel we’ve been taught he was for all these years. He really didn’t want to sentence the Savior to be crucified. Indeed, Pilate thought Jesus was innocent. Three times, he tried to release Him from custody.

According to Luke’s account, Pilate even pronounced a verdict of “Not guilty.”

You brought me this Man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined Him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against Him. Neither has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; as you can see, He has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish Him and then release Him.3

One More Plea

Because he was certain that common sense would prevail, Pilate gave the blood-seeking crowd a choice: Jesus, the miracle-working Prophet or Barabbas, the murderer and revolutionary. Unnerved by the cry for Barabbas, Pilate knew the answer to his question even before he asked it. What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Christ?

The unruly mob in the courtyard wanted blood. Pilate was in a spot; by his own tradition, he was obligated to release Barabbas, the people’s choice. Jesus, the Nazarene carpenter-turned-Prophet, would have to die.

The crowd wanted crucifixion. Pilate’s desire was freedom for this quiet Captive. Fearful of his wife’s dream and frustrated by his inability to set the prisoner free, Pilate washed his hands of the case. Symbolically, he stood before the screaming mob and made his choice. By washing his hands, he chose not to be involved. I am innocent of this Man’s blood. It is your responsibility!

What Shall I do?

Figurine of Pilate in judgment as a Roman soldier takes Jesus awayWhat shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? When Pilate threw that question out to the captors and accusers, he threw it out to himself and us as well. What WILL we do with Jesus who is called Christ? In order to answer that questions and make an informed decision, we must ask ourselves (as Pilate and Caiaphas and the others had to ask themselves), “What do we believe about this Jesus? Who is He? What is He? Is He a trouble-maker, a nobody who thinks He is somebody? Just a good man, a teacher/prophet, a miracle-worker? OR Is He the Son of God, the Christ?

Pilate had to face his own question and had to decide what to do with Jesus. He tried to wash his hands of the whole affair. He tried to be uninvolved, to place the burden of guilt on Caiaphas and the blood-thirsty Jews. By washing his hands and declaring, “I am innocent,” Pilate hoped to avoid answering his own question.

Yet, by washing his hands—the hands of judgment, Pilate was making a decision. By not deciding, he WAS deciding. By refusing to cast his vote for Jesus’ innocence, he was voting for His condemnation.

We are very much like Pilate. Like him, we are confronted with the decision of what to do with Jesus. We must decide if Jesus is who He claimed to be—or was He a phony, a troublemaker who deserved to die?

What will you do with Jesus who is called Christ? You can’t wash your hands of Him. You too, have hands of judgment. Pilate couldn’t. Not to decide it TO decide! Jesus Himself said it. He who is not with Me is against Me.4

Scripture Used in Today’s Message

  1. Matthew 27:1-2, 11-26
  2. John 19:10
  3. Luke 23:14-16
  4. Luke 11:23

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